Dragon Quest Heroes – Someone Backstab Him Already!

Been playing Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below lately. I really like it. Dragon Quest Games don’t shy away from tropes, and this one is no different. But man, so many silly things are happening in the plot that wouldn’t happen if the main characters were old scoundrels instead of heroic teenagers.  That’s not to take anything away from it, because they know how tropey it is and really delight in it. Still, though…

Spoilers for the plot of Dragon Quest Heroes below.


Umm, Guys? It’s Over There

Healix – totally not wearing anything relevant to the plot

For much of the game, my intrepid band of heroes has been searching for the Circle of Light. It’s the counterpoint to the Circle of Night, and is the thing that will help them save the world and you’ve heard all this a million times before… Anyway, they don’t know where it is.

In a totally unrelated situation, they have a friendly Healslime named Healix, who wears a thing that his dad gave him which is supposedly a super important treasure that just happens to resemble a golden circlet.  At the start of the game, Healix is friends with Aurora and Luceus (the teenage main characters). Some crazy black magic wave hits, and every single monster in the area suddenly turns evil, except Healix. Okay, maybe he just got lucky.



Where oh where could it be? We have no idea, we’re just the main characters

Later in the game, Velasco (the bad guy) has our heroes trapped. Healix charges at him, and Velasco reacts when he sees what Healix is wearing as if he recognizes it and is afriad. Healix can’t get to him because he’s in a sacred spot that only the Children of Light and Night may enter, which Healix is not. Velasco then laughs it off, claiming it’s absurd to think a Healslime would posses the Circle of Light. Okay, maybe it’s a replica or something.

After this, Healix gets depressed that his treasure is apparently nothing important, and runs off. Our heroes go to ask the Goddess for help, and lose track of where Healix is. The Goddess tells them flat out that the Circle of Light can be found in the Shrine of Scales.

In the Shrine of Scales, they don’t find the Circle of Light, and the guardian there has no idea what they’re talking about. They do find Healix there. I find it hard to come up with any plausible reason they couldn’t put this together, since the freaking Goddess told them where it was (unless I’m wrong, I haven’t finished the game yet). But hey, that’s what you get when you have teenagers in charge of everything. They’re now heading off to stop the big bad, still without the Circle of Light. Luckily, no doubt they’ll figure it out at the last minute. Speaking of the big bad…


He’s Distracted, Someone Backstab Him Already!

If I was trying to stop this guy, I wouldn’t worry about fighting fair

The villain is named Velasco, who is a robed wizard with a mustache and a Spanish (so my wife says, I thought French) accent. First of all, it’s a delight how varied the accents are in this game. It actually sounds like people are from different places, rather than everyone sounding American.

Secondly, Velasco is competent. He is always one step ahead. He has an army and doesn’t care about it’s well being. He knows far more about what’s going on than the heroes do, and constantly reveals just enough to lead them to where he wants them to go. He’s a smart villain.

Oh, and he loves to monologue. Which to the teenage heroes, is really annoying as they stand, listen, and then throw back retorts.

At one point, this is happening while Velasco and Luceus (the male in blue in an earlier screenshot) are fighting, and Velasco is using his staff to parry Luceus’ sword in a dramatic pose. Aurora (the girl in red) is behind Velasco. She mostly watches. At this point, I was screaming at my TV for her to put brains before heroism, and just stab him in the back while he’s distracted. Instead, she let him monologue, summon a boss monster, then escape to put the final plan for the world’s ruin into motion.

You know, I get that the hero wants to have a dramatic final showdown between good and evil and all… but maybe if the fate of the world hangs in the balance due to this guy who has been beating you the entire game, and you get the chance to end it by fighting dirty, you should take it?

This particular one got me thinking about Avatar: The Last Airbender again. Letting people monologue and transform is such a trope in games and animation that we just go with it, to the point that when Azula didn’t go with it and fried Aang midway through his powerup sequence, it was a shocking moment. It also proves that Azula is a much smarter teenager than the heroes are here.

This Silliness Is In Good Fun

Fortunately, I don’t find this stuff detracts from the game, for me. It’s been quite a lot of fun, and the story having these silly things in it is kind of part of its charm.I’m not sure someone who didn’t grow up on JRPGs and anime where these tropes are so widespread would feel the same way, but when it’s not taken super seriously I find it works.

Indeed, the biggest worry I have about this game is that not a lot of people seem to be playing it. They’re making a sequel in Japan with multiplayer, and I hope we get it, but that requires people to buy the first one here in North America. Multiplayer would be great in this because you have 4 heroes on the map already, so it’d just let two of them be player controlled instead of one.

Level Ups – Some I like, Some I hate

Captain Codfish on Twitter was lamenting how he’s not getting too far in the fun department in Wildstar, for a few reasons. During that conversation, the issue of levels came up again, with this in particular:

I feel you, brother… I’m getting very sick of games that make you do a drawn out levelling process, especially if it just ends at some point and becomes meaningless. But, not all levelling systems bother me. Let’s look at the ones I like and why, first.

Dungeons & Dragons – Each Level Matters

At a certain level, I can bring a pet Dire Bear to the fight on my side. What have you got, puny fighter?

I love D&D, and I both play and Dungeon Master. The levels in D&D? No problem. The big thing is that each level matters. They take a while to get. There is a very real chance in the campaigns I play of dying while trying to get them (and death is a much bigger deal, especially at low level where it can mean a new character entirely). There isn’t that many of them. They bring often dramatic changes in your character.

Most importantly? They don’t practically stop. Oh sure, they do stop (except in revisions where they don’t, epic levels, and so on). But the vast majority of D&D campaigns don’t get to the level cap, which means for practical purposes you don’t run out of levels. You never reach a point where levels cease being a mechanic that matters to the game, so they work just fine.

Disgaea – Absurdity In Levelling

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Disgaea and it’s sequels.

Read those stats. Be prepared to do a lot of levelling if you intend on challenging the Tyrant Overlord.

In Disgaea, levelling is so common that individual levels don’t matter. It’s not a big deal when you advance from 10 to 11 like it is in D&D. But that doesn’t make levelling itself unimportant. Disgaea is just about excess in levelling. You can level up to 9999. You can then reincarnate back to level 1, but keep some of the stats you had before, so that the next time you get to 9999, you’re stronger.

You can then go into your items, and level those up to (and beyond) 100. Inside the second best in slot item in the game, on floor 100 of that item, is an Item God, who carries the best in slot item in the game for you to try and steal. You better have one very good Thief around to pull that off!

You can also level up your characters in some of them in the Character World, build loyalty between characters, boost affinities, level up the item shops to have better stuff… well, you see where this is going.

The key similarity is that like D&D, levels never stop mattering. You are always leveling something. You never reach a point where the mechanic goes away. Which brings me to…

Your Average Themepark MMO – Stop It!

The Captain was talking about Wildstar, but this applies to a ton of MMORPGs. They follow a pattern that I’ve complained about before:

  1. The leveling part, in which you are doing quests to gain levels, learn skills, get talent points, and so on. Often there’s a story component to those quests. These days, they’re usually done mostly or entirely solo, and in some games they will even enforce that on certain quests.
  2. The endgame part, where you no longer have levels to gain. The game at this point often becomes about raiding or other group content, and since everything is the same level (which never changes), the entire mechanic of leveling now serves absolutely no purpose to the functioning of the game.

This is the worst kind of leveling. It’s main purpose is to act as a gatekeeper between people who want to raid, and the raiding part of the game. What is the point of that? League of Legends doesn’t make you play a solo questing game for 300 hours before you’re allowed to play the real game, right? It’s MMOs alone that do this, and it seems at this point like it’s mostly because people expect it more than because it still makes any kind of sense. You wind up with people like Liore, who want to raid in FFXIV but just don’t have the time to catch up through all the levels (and story in FFXIV) to get to that part.

Diablo 3 has the same problem, where the 1-70 part of the game has absolutely  no meaning anymore for veteran players. Guides exist entirely devoted to how to get it over with as fast as possible in a new season, and people are doing it in a handful of hours. Why? Nobody cares anymore. It’s trivially easy, it’s been done before, and it’s just a barrier between players and the real season game… which is the gear hunt and Greater Rift progression at 70. I hate the start of a new season precisely because I have to waste time getting back to 70 so that I can do the stuff that’s actually relevant.

In both the MMOs and Diablo 3, a serious player will spend the overwhelming majority of their time at the level cap. Like, 75% and up majority. In WoW, I was level capped for approaching 90% of my play time, and it wasn’t 99% only because I had a lot of alts. If you spend almost the entirety of the game where the mechanic does absolutely nothing, it’s not meaningful to the game design anymore.

This system isn’t adding anything, at this point. It’s number progression for the sake of number progression… only Disgaea does that a thousand times better.

On Pre-Orders And How They Still Suck

I’d like to give Wildstar another go, but with the server chaos ongoing and the frustration other people are having, I don’t see the point. Sitting around waiting isn’t really what I want to do with limited gaming time. The concern, though, is that my interest will run out before stability happens. Disgaea 5 is coming out soon, and Rock Band 4 will arrive not long after that. Stars Beyond Reach is in beta, as well, from quirky strategy game developer Arcen. There’s a lot going on. By time Wildstar is playable, I may not care a whole lot anymore, and I’m worried that I’m not alone.

I also wanted to write a blog post about the new release, but right now it’d mostly be about the instability and downtime. Kicking Carbine while they’re down on that is helpful to nobody whatsoever, so I’ll just wish them luck instead.

Deus Ex Pre-Orders

I’m excited for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. I was NOT excited for their absurd and now cancelled pre-order scheme.

Square-Enix really missed the mark here, for a couple of reasons. The biggest one for me wasn’t the tier 5 release date thing (although that’s also foolish), it was making people choose rewards. They have two rewards a tier, which means both things are being made. Why are you only giving me one of them when I’m giving you money blindly this far out? Who in marketing thought this was a good idea?

This type of pre-order unlock scheme has existed for other games, and didn’t generate this kind of anger. The main difference is that there wasn’t any options. XCOM: Enemy Unknown did it, and it went just fine. Their rewards included things like a free copy of Civilization V, and they never made you choose between rewards. If it was unlocked, you got it.

Giving people choices can backfire horribly if it makes people feel like they’re missing out or being ripped off. Sometimes, it’s better to just dictate the rewards and let people enjoy the bonus stuff they’re getting for being willing to give you money up front before knowing if the game is any good or not.

IMO, this was less bad than per-store absurdity like…

Rock Band 4 Pre-Orders are BS

In terms of terrible preorder promotions, Rock Band 4 has it nailed. Most stores are offering a 30 song pack for preordering. Amazon is offering four other songs. PSN is offering ten different songs on the digital version. Xbox Live is offering twelve different songs from PSN for the same thing, which is pretty goofy because a digital version on Xbox One won’t even work without either new instruments or a physical adapter you still have to go out and buy.

This is entirely ridiculous. First of all, I should not need a table of data to figure out where to buy a game from. Secondly, are these “exclusive” songs going to be available for purchase elsewhere, or did they just lock 26 songs up forever based only on how you bought the game? I can’t even buy the Xbox version even if I wanted to because doing so would wipe out all the songs I purchased on PS3 (which carry over to the PS4). Telling me that because I was a previous customer I’m not allowed to buy a Weird Al song is fucking bullshit. I’m hoping Harmonix isn’t that stupid and this stuff will all go into the store for everyone else, but I’ve been proven wrong before.

The only difference between this and Deus Ex is that I know what marketing is thinking in this case: $$$. Amazon and the others are paying for these special promotional bonuses. Best Buy isn’t, for example, and doesn’t have one (although they did have a sale going). Brad Wardell of Stardock has talked about it in the past, and how the business behind it works. The retailers want something extra to pitch so they get more sales, which matters quite a lot when you have over $200 instrument bundles sitting in inventory to sell. But still, it’s extremely player hostile.

Pre-Orders Are For Suckers (except maybe on Steam)

Assassin's Creed Unity Face Bug
Face rendering is planned in a future DLC

This all comes around to the general problem with pre-orders: they’re for suckers. They are a relic of the days of retail distribution, where stores needed some idea of how many copies to stock, andfor niche games there was a very real risk of running out due to limited print runs. These problems don’t exist in a digital distribution world. In today’s world, they are just a bad idea. A game is never more expensive and buggier than when it first comes out.

For players, you buy it sight unseen in the hope that it lives up to the billing. That’s a crap shoot, even with known franchises. People learned that the hard way from Assassins Creed: Unity, and Batman: Arkham Knight. AAA studios do not need (and don’t even get) your money before the game is released. If it’s worth buying as a pre-order, it’ll still be worth buying two weeks after launch when it’s clear if it lived up to the hype or not.

Pre-order bonuses are meant to counteract that. They’re to entice you with little things in order to get your money before you can find out that the game is a broken mess. Marketing loves them because they work with the hype machine and help insulate against a botched release.

Gamers should not play along.

Although there is a bit of an exception on Steam now, as it’s refund policy allows you to get a refund on a pre-order after release within the standard 14 day/2 hour played limits. That is a huge equalizer in this situation, and I’d be a lot more comfortable doing it on Steam than I would on another platform with that policy in place.

As it stands, I’ll probably be a sucker and pre-order XCOM 2. It’s hard not to be a sucker for one of my favorite games, especially with the refund policy offering some protection.